PAKISTAN: Asma calls for independence of judiciary, media

PFUJ Secretary-General suggests creation of a parliamentary media regulatory group and appeals for end of PEMRA ordinances

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Islamabad --- Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Asma Jehangir has said politicians must be given a chance in light of the challenges awaiting the incoming government.

Speaking at a forum on "New Democratic Possibilities: What Next?" arranged by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in collaboration with the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), she said the recent elections proved people's confidence in democracy.

"We do not have big expectations for overnight change, but at least we can set the right direction towards a real transition to civilian democracy that ensures an independent judiciary, a free media, respect for the peoples' mandate and civil rights," she said.

Ms Jehangir said the new parliament had a lot of challenges ahead. She said the results could not be predicted at this stage where Pervez Musharraf continued as president and the old establishment was also there.

She called for an early convening of parliament, and sought reformation of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and making it an independent body in letter and spirit.

About the movement for restoration of pre-November 3 judiciary, Ms Jehangir said the lawyers' struggle was for democratic institutions and not just individuals.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Senator Mian Raza Rabbani asked for patience and cooperation from all sectors of society so that a new government could live up to the expectations of the mandate they had been given.

"We will try to adhere to the spirit of the Charter of Democracy and build on it through constitutional and institutional reforms," he said.

"We will ensure transparency of our government through free media, independent judiciary and a sovereign parliament despite the many problems left by the outgoing regime," he added.

He committed to the revival of trade unions, student unions and economic uplift in addition to addressing the threat of terrorism and grievances of the smaller provinces like Balochistan.

Senator Tahir Hussain Mashadi of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) while representing party's deputy convenor Dr Farooq Sattar said his party respects the mandate given to the political parties by the electorates. He expressed his desire to transform Pakistan into a liberal country as envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

MNA-elect Jameela Jeelani of the Awami National Party (ANP) said his party had been given 'peace vote' by the electorates. She said his party would focus on resolving the problems facing the common man and ensuring peace in the province as well as the country.

Human rights activist Athar Minallah said it was for the first time in the history of the country that encouraging signals from the political parties to change the mindset of the ruling establishment were coming.

"On February 18 the people of Pakistan proved that they know how to rule themselves and its time now to give politicians a chance as they seem determined to fight strengthen institutions," he insisted.

Secretary-General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Mazhar Abbas said at the behest of the previous government Pemra violated its own laws by putting undue bars on media freedom. He demanded repeal of Pemra ordinances and insisted on the formation of a regulatory body by the parliament in consultation with all stakeholders. He said the prime minister should have the power to appoint the Pemra chief, not the president.

Mr Abbas said all representative bodies of working journalists and media owners should also develop their own code of conduct to make the media more responsible. "Our expectation from the new government is respect for media freedom, independence of judiciary and supremacy of the parliament," he declared.

Representative of Quaid-i-Azam University Student Action Committee Alya Ameer Ali said the students came out in large numbers throughout the country during the struggle for the restoration of judiciary and rejected the impression being imposed by some quarters that politics was a dirty thing.

"Now the realities have changed and we have to trust the politicians," she said.

As Ali demanded total extermination of the army's role in politics and insisted on building the institutions, creating job opportunities and lifting of ban on student unions.